The Physiology of Marriage, Part II.
by Honore de Balzac
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

LXIX. All the affected airs of sensibility which a woman puts on invariably deceive a lover; and on occasions when a husband shrugs his shoulders, a lover is in ecstasies.

LXX. A lover betrays by his manner alone the degree of intimacy in which he stands to a married woman.

LXXI. A woman does not always know why she is in love. It is rarely that a man falls in love without some selfish purpose. A husband should discover this secret motive of egotism, for it will be to him the lever of Archimedes.

LXXII. A clever husband never betrays his supposition that his wife has a lover.

LXXIII. The lover submits to all the caprices of a woman; and as a man is never vile while he lies in the arms of his mistress, he will take the means to please her that a husband would recoil from.

LXXIV. A lover teaches a wife all that her husband has concealed from her.

LXXV. All the sensations which a woman yields to her lover, she gives in exchange; they return to her always intensified; they are as rich in what they give as in what they receive. This is the kind of commerce in which almost all husbands end by being bankrupt.

LXXVI. A lover speaks of nothing to a woman but that which exalts her; while a husband, although he may be a loving one, can never refrain from giving advice which always has the appearance of reprimand.

LXXVII. A lover always starts from his mistress to himself; with a husband the contrary is the case.

LXXVIII. A lover always has a desire to appear amiable. There is in this sentiment an element of exaggeration which leads to ridicule; study how to take advantage of this.

LXXIX. When a crime has been committed the magistrate who investigates the case knows [excepting in the case of a released convict who commits murder in jail] that there are not more than five persons to whom he can attribute the act. He starts from this premise a series of conjectures. The husband should reason like the judge; there are only three people in society whom he can suspect when seeking the lover of his wife.

LXXX. A lover is never in the wrong.

LXXXI. The lover of a married woman says to her: "Madame, you have need of rest. You have to give an example of virtue to your children. You have sworn to make your husband happy, and although he has some faults—he has fewer than I have—he is worthy of your esteem. Nevertheless you have sacrificed everything for me. Do not let a single murmur escape you; for regret is an offence which I think worthy of a severer penalty than the law decrees against infidelity. As a reward for these sacrifices, I will bring you as much pleasure as pain." And the incredible part about it is, that the lover triumphs. The form which his speech takes carries it. He says but one phrase: "I love you." A lover is a herald who proclaims either the merit, the beauty, or the wit of a woman. What does a husband proclaim?

To sum up all, the love which a married woman inspires, or that which she gives back, is the least creditable sentiment in the world; in her it is boundless vanity; in her lover it is selfish egotism. The lover of a married woman contracts so many obligations, that scarcely three men in a century are met with who are capable of discharging them. He ought to dedicate his whole life to his mistress, but he always ends by deserting her; both parties are aware of this, and, from the beginning of social life, the one has always been sublime in self-sacrifice, the other an ingrate. The infatuation of love always rouses the pity of the judges who pass sentence on it. But where do you find such love genuine and constant? What power must a husband possess to struggle successfully against a man who casts over a woman a spell strong enough to make her submit to such misfortunes!

We think, then, as a general rule, a husband, if he knows how to use the means of defence which we have outlined, can lead his wife up to her twenty-seventh year, not without her having chosen a lover, but without her having committed the great crime. Here and there we meet with men endowed with deep marital genius, who can keep their wives, body and soul to themselves alone up to their thirtieth or thirty-fifth year; but these exceptions cause a sort of scandal and alarm. The phenomenon scarcely ever is met with excepting in the country, where life is transparent and people live in glass houses and the husband wields immense power. The miraculous assistance which men and things thus give to a husband always vanishes in the midst of a city whose population reaches to two hundred and fifty thousand.

It would therefore almost appear to be demonstrated that thirty is the age of virtue. At that critical period, a woman becomes so difficult to guard, that in order successfully to enchain her within the conjugal Paradise, resort must be had to those last means of defence which remain to be described, and which we will reveal in the Essay on Police, the Art of Returning Home, and Catastrophes.



The police of marriage consist of all those means which are given you by law, manners, force, and stratagem for preventing your wife in her attempt to accomplish those three acts which in some sort make up the life of love: writing, seeing and speaking.

The police combine in greater or less proportion the means of defence put forth in the preceding Meditations. Instinct alone can teach in what proportions and on what occasions these compounded elements are to be employed. The whole system is elastic; a clever husband will easily discern how it must be bent, stretched or retrenched. By the aid of the police a man can guide his wife to her fortieth year pure from any fault.

We will divide this treatise on Police into five captions:



In spite of the grave crisis which the husband has reached, we do not suppose that the lover has completely acquired the freedom of the city in the marital establishment. Many husbands often suspect that their wives have a lover, and yet they do not know upon which of the five or six chosen ones of whom we have spoken their suspicions ought to fall. This hesitation doubtless springs from some moral infirmity, to whose assistance the professor must come.

Fouche had in Paris three or four houses resorted to by people of the highest distinction; the mistresses of these dwellings were devoted to him. This devotion cost a great deal of money to the state. The minister used to call these gatherings, of which nobody at the time had any suspicion, his mouse-traps. More than one arrest was made at the end of the ball at which the most brilliant people of Paris had been made accomplices of this oratorian.

The act of offering some fragments of roasted nuts, in order to see your wife put her white hand in the trap, is certainly exceedingly delicate, for a woman is certain to be on her guard; nevertheless, we reckon upon at least three kinds of mouse-traps: The Irresistible, The Fallacious, and that which is Touch and Go.

The Irresistible.

Suppose two husbands, we will call them A and B, wish to discover who are the lovers of their wives. We will put the husband A at the centre of a table loaded with the finest pyramids of fruit, of crystals, of candies and of liqueurs, and the husband B shall be at whatever point of this brilliant circle you may please to suppose. The champagne has gone round, every eye is sparkling and every tongue is wagging.

HUSBAND A. (peeling a chestnut)—Well, as for me, I admire literary people, but from a distance. I find them intolerable; in conversation they are despotic; I do not know what displeases me more, their faults or their good qualities. In short (he swallows his chestnut), people of genius are like tonics—you like, but you must use them temperately.

WIFE B. (who has listened attentively)—But, M. A., you are very exacting (with an arch smile); it seems to me that dull people have as many faults as people of talent, with this difference perhaps, that the former have nothing to atone for them!

HUSBAND A. (irritably)—You will agree at least, madame, that they are not very amiable to you.

WIFE B. (with vivacity)—Who told you so?

HUSBAND A. (smiling)—Don't they overwhelm you all the time with their superiority? Vanity so dominates their souls that between you and them the effort is reciprocal—

THE MISTRESS OF THE HOUSE. (aside to Wife A)—You well deserved it, my dear. (Wife A shrugs her shoulders.)

HUSBAND A. (still continuing)—Then the habit they have of combining ideas which reveal to them the mechanism of feeling! For them love is purely physical and every one knows that they do not shine.

WIFE B. (biting her lips, interrupting him)—It seems to me, sir, that we are the sole judges in this matter. I can well understand why men of the world do not like men of letters! But it is easier to criticise than to imitate them.

HUSBAND A. (disdainfully)—Oh, madame, men of the world can assail the authors of the present time without being accused of envy. There is many a gentleman of the drawing-room, who if he undertook to write—

WIFE B. (with warmth)—Unfortunately for you, sir, certain friends of yours in the Chamber have written romances; have you been able to read them?—But really, in these days, in order to attain the least originality, you must undertake historic research, you must—

HUSBAND B. (making no answer to the lady next him and speaking aside) —Oh! Oh! Can it be that it is M. de L——-, author of the Dreams of a Young Girl, whom my wife is in love with?—That is singular; I thought that it was Doctor M——-. But stay! (Aloud.) Do you know, my dear, that you are right in what you say? (All laugh.) Really, I should prefer to have always artists and men of letters in my drawing-room—(aside) when we begin to receive!—rather than to see there other professional men. In any case artists speak of things about which every one is enthusiastic, for who is there who does not believe in good taste? But judges, lawyers, and, above all, doctors—Heavens! I confess that to hear them constantly speaking about lawsuits and diseases, those two human ills—

WIFE A. (sitting next to Husband B, speaking at the same time)—What is that you are saying, my friend? You are quite mistaken. In these days nobody wishes to wear a professional manner; doctors, since you have mentioned doctors, try to avoid speaking of professional matters. They talk politics, discuss the fashions and the theatres, they tell anecdotes, they write books better than professional authors do; there is a vast difference between the doctors of to-day and those of Moliere—

HUSBAND A. (aside)—Whew! Is it possible my wife is in love with Dr. M——-? That would be odd. (Aloud.) That is quite possible, my dear, but I would not give a sick dog in charge of a physician who writes.

WIFE A. (interrupting her husband)—I know people who have five or six offices, yet the government has the greatest confidence in them; anyway, it is odd that you should speak in this way, you who were one of Dr. M——-'s great cases—

HUSBAND A. (aside)—There can be no doubt of it!

The Fallacious.

A HUSBAND. (as he reaches home)—My dear, we are invited by Madame de Fischtaminel to a concert which she is giving next Tuesday. I reckoned on going there, as I wanted to speak with a young cousin of the minister who was among the singers; but he is gone to Frouville to see his aunt. What do you propose doing?

HIS WIFE.—These concerts tire me to death!—You have to sit nailed to your chair whole hours without saying a word.—Besides, you know quite well that we dine with my mother on that day, and it is impossible to miss paying her a visit.

HER HUSBAND. (carelessly)—Ah! that is true.

(Three days afterwards.)

THE HUSBAND. (as he goes to bed)—What do you think, my darling? To-morrow I will leave you at your mother's, for the count has returned from Frouville and will be at Madame de Fischtaminel's concert.

HIS WIFE. (vivaciously)—But why should you go alone? You know how I adore music!

The Touch and Go Mouse-Trap.

THE WIFE.—Why did you go away so early this evening?

THE HUSBAND. (mysteriously)—Ah! It is a sad business, and all the more so because I don't know how I can settle it.

THE WIFE.—What is it all about, Adolph? You are a wretch if you do not tell me what you are going to do!

THE HUSBAND.—My dear, that ass of a Prosper Magnan is fighting a duel with M. de Fontanges, on account of an Opera singer.—But what is the matter with you?

THE WIFE.—Nothing.—It is very warm in this room and I don't know what ails me, for the whole day I have been suffering from sudden flushing of the face.

THE HUSBAND. (aside)—She is in love with M. de Fontanges. (Aloud.) Celestine! (He shouts out still louder.) Celestine! Come quick, madame is ill!

You will understand that a clever husband will discover a thousand ways of setting these three kinds of traps.


To write a letter, and to have it posted; to get an answer, to read it and burn it; there we have correspondence stated in the simplest terms.

Yet consider what immense resources are given by civilization, by our manners and by our love to the women who wish to conceal these material actions from the scrutiny of a husband.

The inexorable box which keeps its mouth open to all comers receives its epistolary provender from all hands.

There is also the fatal invention of the General Delivery. A lover finds in the world a hundred charitable persons, male and female, who, for a slight consideration, will slip the billets-doux into the amorous and intelligent hand of his fair mistress.

A correspondence is a variable as Proteus. There are sympathetic inks. A young celibate has told us in confidence that he has written a letter on the fly-leaf of a new book, which, when the husband asked for it of the bookseller, reached the hands of his mistress, who had been prepared the evening before for this charming article.

A woman in love, who fears her husband's jealousy, will write and read billets-doux during the time consecrated to those mysterious occupations during which the most tyrannical husband must leave her alone.

Moreover, all lovers have the art of arranging a special code of signals, whose arbitrary import it is difficult to understand. At a ball, a flower placed in some odd way in the hair; at the theatre, a pocket handkerchief unfolded on the front of the box; rubbing the nose, wearing a belt of a particular color, putting the hat on one side, wearing one dress oftener than another, singing a certain song in a concert or touching certain notes on the piano; fixing the eyes on a point agreed; everything, in fact, from the hurdy-gurdy which passes your windows and goes away if you open the shutter, to the newspaper announcement of a horse for sale—all may be reckoned as correspondence.

How many times, in short, will a wife craftily ask her husband to do such and such commission for her, to go to such and such a shop or house, having previously informed her lover that your presence at such or such a place means yes or no?

On this point the professor acknowledges with shame that there is no possible means of preventing correspondence between lovers. But a little machiavelism on the part of the husband will be much more likely to remedy the difficulty than any coercive measures.

An agreement, which should be kept sacred between married people, is their solemn oath that they will respect each other's sealed letters. Clever is the husband who makes this pledge on his wedding-day and is able to keep it conscientiously.

In giving your wife unrestrained liberty to write and to receive letters, you will be enabled to discern the moment she begins to correspond with a lover.

But suppose your wife distrusts you and covers with impenetrable clouds the means she takes to conceal from you her correspondence. Is it not then time to display that intellectual power with which we armed you in our Meditation entitled Of the Custom House? The man who does not see when his wife writes to her lover, and when she receives an answer, is a failure as a husband.

The proposed study which you ought to bestow upon the movements, the actions, the gestures, the looks of your wife, will be perhaps troublesome and wearying, but it will not last long; the only point is to discover when your wife and her lover correspond and in what way.

We cannot believe that a husband, even of moderate intelligence, will fail to see through this feminine manoeuvre, when once he suspects its existence.

Meanwhile, you can judge from a single incident what means of police and of restraint remain to you in the event of such a correspondence.

A young lawyer, whose ardent passion exemplified certain of the principles dwelt upon in this important part of our work, had married a young person whose love for him was but slight; yet this circumstance he looked upon as an exceedingly happy one; but at the end of his first year of marriage he perceived that his dear Anna [for Anna was her name] had fallen in love with the head clerk of a stock-broker.

Adolph was a young man of about twenty-five, handsome in face and as fond of amusement as any other celibate. He was frugal, discreet, possessed of an excellent heart, rode well, talked well, had fine black hair always curled, and dressed with taste. In short, he would have done honor and credit to a duchess. The advocate was ugly, short, stumpy, square-shouldered, mean-looking, and, moreover, a husband. Anna, tall and pretty, had almond eyes, white skin and refined features. She was all love; and passion lighted up her glance with a bewitching expression. While her family was poor, Maitre Lebrun had an income of twelve thousand francs. That explains all.

One evening Lebrun got home looking extremely chop-fallen. He went into his study to work; but he soon came back shivering to his wife, for he had caught a fever and hurriedly went to bed. There he lay groaning and lamenting for his clients and especially for a poor widow whose fortune he was to save the very next day by effecting a compromise. An appointment had been made with certain business men and he was quite incapable of keeping it. After having slept for a quarter of an hour, he begged his wife in a feeble voice to write to one of his intimate friends, asking him to take his (Lebrun's) place next day at the conference. He dictated a long letter and followed with his eye the space taken up on the paper by his phrases. When he came to begin the second page of the last sheet, the advocate set out to describe to his confrere the joy which his client would feel on the signing of the compromise, and the fatal page began with these words:

"My good friend, go for Heaven's sake to Madame Vernon's at once; you are expected with impatience there; she lives at No. 7 Rue de Sentier. Pardon my brevity; but I count on your admirable good sense to guess what I am unable to explain.

"Tout a vous,"

"Give me the letter," said the lawyer, "that I may see whether it is correct before signing it."

The unfortunate wife, who had been taken off her guard by this letter, which bristled with the most barbarous terms of legal science, gave up the letter. As soon as Lebrun got possession of the wily script he began to complain, to twist himself about, as if in pain, and to demand one little attention after another of his wife. Madame left the room for two minutes during which the advocate leaped from his bed, folded a piece of paper in the form of a letter and hid the missive written by his wife. When Anna returned, the clever husband seized the blank paper, made her address it to the friend of his, to whom the letter which he had taken out was written, and the poor creature handed the blank letter to his servant. Lebrun seemed to grow gradually calmer; he slept or pretended to do so, and the next morning he still affected to feel strange pains. Two days afterwards he tore off the first leaf of the letter and put an "e" to the word tout in the phrase "tout a vous."[*] He folded mysteriously the paper which contained the innocent forgery, sealed it, left his bedroom and called the maid, saying to her:

[*] Thus giving a feminine ending to the signature, and lending the impression that the note emanated from the wife personally—J.W.M.

"Madame begs that you will take this to the house of M. Adolph; now, be quick about it."

He saw the chambermaid leave the house and soon afterwards he, on a plea of business, went out, hurried to Rue de Sentier, to the address indicated, and awaited the arrival of his rival at the house of a friend who was in the secret of his stratagem. The lover, intoxicated with happiness, rushed to the place and inquired for Madame de Vernon; he was admitted and found himself face to face with Maitre Lebrun, who showed a countenance pale but chill, and gazed at him with tranquil but implacable glance.

"Sir," he said in a tone of emotion to the young clerk, whose heart palpitated with terror, "you are in love with my wife, and you are trying to please her; I scarcely know how to treat you in return for this, because in your place and at your age I should have done exactly the same. But Anna is in despair; you have disturbed her happiness, and her heart is filled with the torments of hell. Moreover, she has told me all, a quarrel soon followed by a reconciliation forced her to write the letter which you have received, and she has sent me here in her place. I will not tell you, sir, that by persisting in your plan of seduction you will cause the misery of her you love, that you will forfeit her my esteem, and eventually your own; that your crime will be stamped on the future by causing perhaps sorrow to my children. I will not even speak to you of the bitterness you will infuse into my life;—unfortunately these are commonplaces! But I declare to you, sir, that the first step you take in this direction will be the signal for a crime; for I will not trust the risk of a duel in order to stab you to the heart!"

And the eyes of the lawyer flashed ominously.

"Now, sir," he went on in a gentler voice, "you are young, you have a generous heart. Make a sacrifice for the future happiness of her you love; leave her and never see her again. And if you must needs be a member of my family, I have a young aunt who is yet unsettled in life; she is charming, clever and rich. Make her acquaintance, and leave a virtuous woman undisturbed."

This mixture of raillery and intimidation, together with the unwavering glance and deep voice of the husband, produced a remarkable impression on the lover. He remained for a moment utterly confused, like people overcome with passion and deprived of all presence of mind by a sudden shock. If Anna has since then had any lovers [which is a pure hypothesis] Adolph certainly is not one of them.

This occurrence may help you to understand that correspondence is a double-edged weapon which is of as much advantage for the defence of the husband as for the inconsistency of the wife. You should therefore encourage correspondence for the same reason that the prefect of police takes special care that the street lamps of Paris are kept lighted.


To come so low as to beg servants to reveal secrets to you, and to fall lower still by paying for a revelation, is not a crime; it is perhaps not even a dastardly act, but it is certainly a piece of folly; for nothing will ever guarantee to you the honesty of a servant who betrays her mistress, and you can never feel certain whether she is operating in your interest or in that of your wife. This point therefore may be looked upon as beyond controversy.

Nature, that good and tender parent, has set round about the mother of a family the most reliable and the most sagacious of spies, the most truthful and at the same time the most discreet in the world. They are silent and yet they speak, they see everything and appear to see nothing.

One day I met a friend of mine on the boulevard. He invited me to dinner, and we went to his house. Dinner had been already served, and the mistress of the house was helping her two daughters to plates of soup.

"I see here my first symptoms," I said to myself.

We sat down. The first word of the husband, who spoke without thinking, and for the sake of talking, was the question:

"Has any one been here to-day?"

"Not a soul," replied his wife, without lifting her eyes.

I shall never forget the quickness with which the two daughters looked up to their mother. The elder girl, aged eight, had something especially peculiar in her glance. There was at the same time revelation and mystery, curiosity and silence, astonishment and apathy in that look. If there was anything that could be compared to the speed with which the light of candor flashed from their eyes, it was the prudent reserve with which both of them closed down, like shutters, the folds of their white eyelids.

Ye sweet and charming creatures, who from the age of nine even to the age of marriage too often are the torment of a mother even when she is not a coquette, is it by the privilege of your years or the instinct of your nature that your young ears catch the faint sound of a man's voice through walls and doors, that your eyes are awake to everything, and that your young spirit busies itself in divining all, even the meaning of a word spoken in the air, even the meaning of your mother's slightest gesture?

There is something of gratitude, something in fact instinctive, in the predilection of fathers for their daughters and mothers for their sons.

But the act of setting spies which are in some way inanimate is mere dotage, and nothing is easier than to find a better plan than that of the beadle, who took it into his head to put egg-shells in his bed, and who obtained no other sympathy from his confederate than the words, "You are not very successful in breaking them."

The Marshal de Saxe did not give much consolation to his Popeliniere when they discovered in company that famous revolving chimney, invented by the Duc de Richelieu.

"That is the finest piece of horn work that I have ever seen!" cried the victor of Fontenoy.

Let us hope that your espionage will not give you so troublesome a lesson. Such misfortunes are the fruits of the civil war and we do not live in that age.


The Pope puts books only on the Index; you will mark with a stigma of reprobation men and things.

It is forbidden to madame to go into a bath except in her own house.

It is forbidden to madame to receive into her house him whom you suspect of being her lover, and all those who are the accomplices of their love.

It is forbidden to madame to take a walk without you.

But the peculiarities which in each household originate from the diversity of characters, the numberless incidents of passion, and the habits of the married people give to this black book so many variations, the lines in it are multiplied or erased with such rapidity that a friend of the author has called this Index The History of Changes in the Marital Church.

There are only two things which can be controlled or prescribed in accordance with definite rules; the first is the country, the second is the promenade.

A husband ought never to take his wife to the country nor permit her to go there. Have a country home if you like, live there, entertain there nobody excepting ladies or old men, but never leave your wife alone there. But to take her, for even half a day, to the house of another man is to show yourself as stupid as an ostrich.

To keep guard over a wife in the country is a task most difficult of accomplishment. Do you think that you will be able to be in the thickets, to climb the trees, to follow the tracks of a lover over the grass trodden down at night, but straightened by the dew in the morning and refreshed by the rays of the sun? Can you keep your eye on every opening in the fence of the park? Oh! the country and the Spring! These are the two right arms of the celibate.

When a woman reaches the crisis at which we suppose her to be, a husband ought to remain in town till the declaration of war, or to resolve on devoting himself to all the delights of a cruel espionage.

With regard to the promenade: Does madame wish to go to parties, to the theatre, to the Bois de Boulogne, to purchase her dresses, to find out what is the fashion? Madame shall go, shall see everything in the respectable company of her lord and master.

If she take advantage of the moment when a business appointment, which you cannot fail to keep, detains you, in order to obtain your tacit permission to some meditated expedition; if in order to obtain that permission she displays all the witcheries of those cajoleries in which women excel and whose powerful influence you ought already to have known, well, well, the professor implores you to allow her to win you over, while at the same time you sell dear the boon she asks; and above all convince this creature, whose soul is at once as changeable as water and as firm as steel, that it is impossible for you from the importance of your work to leave your study.

But as soon as your wife has set foot upon the street, if she goes on foot, don't give her time to make fifty steps; follow and track her in such a way that you will not be noticed.

It is possible that there exist certain Werthers whose refined and delicate souls recoil from this inquisition. But this is not more blamable than that of a landed proprietor who rises at night and looks through the windows for the purpose of keeping watch over the peaches on his espaliers. You will probably by this course of action obtain, before the crime is committed, exact information with regard to the apartments which so many lovers rent in the city under fictitious names. If it happens [which God forbid!] that your wife enters a house suspected by you, try to find out if the place has several exits.

Should your wife take a hack, what have you to fear? Is there not a prefect of police, to whom all husbands ought to decree a crown of solid gold, and has he not set up a little shed or bench where there is a register, an incorruptible guardian of public morality? And does he not know all the comings and goings of these Parisian gondolas?

One of the vital principles of our police will consist in always following your wife to the furnishers of your house, if she is accustomed to visit them. You will carefully find out whether there is any intimacy between her and her draper, her dressmaker or her milliner, etc. In this case you will apply the rules of the conjugal Custom House, and draw your own conclusions.

If in your absence your wife, having gone out against your will, tells you that she had been to such a place, to such a shop, go there yourself the next day and try to find out whether she has spoken the truth.

But passion will dictate to you, even better than the Meditation, the various resources of conjugal tyranny, and we will here cut short these tiresome instructions.


In outlining the portrait of a sane and sound husband (See Meditation on the Predestined), we urgently advise that he should conceal from his wife the real amount of his income.

In relying upon this as the foundation stone of our financial system we hope to do something towards discounting the opinion, so very generally held, that a man ought not to give the handling of his income to his wife. This principle is one of the many popular errors and is one of the chief causes of misunderstanding in the domestic establishment.

But let us, in the first place, deal with the question of heart, before we proceed to that of money.

To draw up a little civil list for your wife and for the requirements of the house and to pay her money as if it were a contribution, in twelve equal portions month by month, has something in it that is a little mean and close, and cannot be agreeable to any but sordid and mistrustful souls. By acting in this way you prepare for yourself innumerable annoyances.

I could wish that during the first year of your mellifluous union, scenes more or less delightful, pleasantries uttered in good taste, pretty purses and caresses might accompany and might decorate the handing over of this monthly gift; but the time will come when the self-will of your wife or some unforeseen expenditure will compel her to ask a loan of the Chamber; I presume that you will always grant her the bill of indemnity, as our unfaithful deputies never fail to do. They pay, but they grumble; you must pay and at the same time compliment her. I hope it will be so.

But in the crisis which we have reached, the provisions of the annual budget can never prove sufficient. There must be an increase of fichus, of bonnets, of frocks; there is an expense which cannot be calculated beforehand demanded by the meetings, by the diplomatic messengers, by the ways and means of love, even while the receipts remain the same as usual. Then must commence in your establishment a course of education the most odious, and the most dreadful which a woman can undergo. I know but few noble and generous souls who value, more than millions, purity of heart, frankness of soul, and who would a thousand times more readily pardon a passion than a lie, whose instinctive delicacy has divined the existence of this plague of the soul, the lowest step in human degradation.

Under these circumstances there occur in the domestic establishment the most delightful scenes of love. It is then that a woman becomes utterly pliant and like to the most brilliant of all the strings of a harp, when thrown before the fire; she rolls round you, she clasps you, she holds you tight; she defers to all your caprices; never was her conversation so full of tenderness; she lavishes her endearments upon you, or rather she sells them to you; she at last becomes lower than a chorus girl, for she prostitutes herself to her husband. In her sweetest kisses there is money; in all her words there is money. In playing this part her heart becomes like lead towards you. The most polished, the most treacherous usurer never weighs so completely with a single glance the future value in bullion of a son of a family who may sign a note to him, than your wife appraises one of your desires as she leaps from branch to branch like an escaping squirrel, in order to increase the sum of money she may demand by increasing the appetite which she rouses in you. You must not expect to get scot-free from such seductions. Nature has given boundless gifts of coquetry to a woman, the usages of society have increased them tenfold by its fashions, its dresses, its embroideries and its tippets.

"If I ever marry," one of the most honorable generals of our ancient army used to say, "I won't put a sou among the wedding presents—"

"What will you put there then, general?" asked a young girl.

"The key of my safe."

The young girl made a curtsey of approbation. She moved her little head with a quiver like that of the magnetic needle; raised her chin slightly as if she would have said:

"I would gladly marry the general in spite of his forty-five years."

But with regard to money, what interest can you expect your wife to take in a machine in which she is looked upon as a mere bookkeeper?

Now look at the other system.

In surrendering to your wife, with an avowal of absolute confidence in her, two-thirds of your fortune and letting her as mistress control the conjugal administration, you win from her an esteem which nothing can destroy, for confidence and high-mindedness find powerful echoes in the heart of a woman. Madame will be loaded with a responsibility which will often raise a barrier against extravagances, all the stronger because it is she herself who has created it in her heart. You yourself have made a portion of the work, and you may be sure that from henceforth your wife will never perhaps dishonor herself.

Moreover, by seeking in this way a method of defence, consider what admirable aids are offered to you by this plan of finances.

You will have in your house an exact estimate of the morality of your wife, just as the quotations of the Bourse give you a just estimate of the degree of confidence possessed by the government.

And doubtless, during the first years of your married life, your wife will take pride in giving you every luxury and satisfaction which your money can afford.

She will keep a good table, she will renew the furniture, and the carriages; she will always keep in her drawer a sum of money sacred to her well-beloved and ready for his needs. But of course, in the actual circumstances of life, the drawer will be very often empty and monsieur will spend a great deal too much. The economies ordered by the Chamber never weigh heavily upon the clerks whose income is twelve hundred francs; and you will be the clerk at twelve hundred francs in your own house. You will laugh in your sleeve, because you will have saved, capitalized, invested one-third of your income during a long time, like Louis XV, who kept for himself a little separate treasury, "against a rainy day," he used to say.

Thus, if your wife speaks of economy, her discourse will be equal to the varying quotations of the money-market. You will be able to divine the whole progress of the lover by these financial fluctuations, and you will have avoided all difficulties. E sempre bene.

If your wife fails to appreciate the excessive confidence, and dissipates in one day a large proportion of your fortune, in the first place it is not probable that this prodigality will amount to one-third of the revenue which you have been saving for ten years; moreover you will learn, from the Meditation on Catastrophes, that in the very crisis produced by the follies of your wife, you will have brilliant opportunities of slaying the Minotaur.

But the secret of the treasure which has been amassed by your thoughtfulness need never be known till after your death; and if you have found it necessary to draw upon it, in order to assist your wife, you must always let it be thought that you have won at play, or made a loan from a friend.

These are the true principles which should govern the conjugal budget.

The police of marriage has its martyrology. We will cite but one instance which will make plain how necessary it is for husbands who resort to severe measures to keep watch over themselves as well as over their wives.

An old miser who lived at T——-, a pleasure resort if there ever was one, had married a young and pretty woman, and he was so wrapped up in her and so jealous that love triumphed over avarice; he actually gave up trade in order to guard his wife more closely, but his only real change was that his covetousness took another form. I acknowledge that I owe the greater portion of the observations contained in this essay, which still is doubtless incomplete, to the person who made a study of this remarkable marital phenomenon, to portray which, one single detail will be amply sufficient. When he used to go to the country, this husband never went to bed without secretly raking over the pathways of his park, and he had a special rake for the sand of his terraces. He had made a close study of the footprints made by the different members of his household; and early in the morning he used to go and identify the tracks that had been made there.

"All this is old forest land," he used to say to the person I have referred to, as he showed him over the park; "for nothing can be seen through the brushwood."

His wife fell in love with one of the most charming young men of the town. This passion had continued for nine years bright and fresh in the hearts of the two lovers, whose sole avowal had been a look exchanged in a crowded ball-room; and while they danced together their trembling hands revealed through the scented gloves the depth of their love. From that day they had both of them taken great delight on those trifles which happy lovers never disdain. One day the young man led his only confidant, with a mysterious air, into a chamber where he kept under glass globes upon his table, with more care than he would have bestowed upon the finest jewels in the world, the flowers that, in the excitement of the dance, had fallen from the hair of his mistress, and the finery which had been caught in the trees which she had brushed through in the park. He also preserved there the narrow footprint left upon the clay soil by the lady's step.

"I could hear," said this confidant to me afterwards, "the violent and repressed palpitations of his heart sounding in the silence which we preserved before the treasures of this museum of love. I raised my eyes to the ceiling, as if to breathe to heaven the sentiment which I dared not utter. 'Poor humanity!' I thought. 'Madame de ——- told me that one evening at a ball you had been found nearly fainting in her card-room?' I remarked to him.

"'I can well believe it,' said he casting down his flashing glance, 'I had kissed her arm!—But,' he added as he pressed my hand and shot at me a glance that pierced my heart, 'her husband at that time had the gout which threatened to attack his stomach.'"

Some time afterwards, the old man recovered and seemed to take a new lease of life; but in the midst of his convalescence he took to his bed one morning and died suddenly. There were such evident symptoms of poisoning in the condition of the dead man that the officers of justice were appealed to, and the two lovers were arrested. Then was enacted at the court of assizes the most heartrending scene that ever stirred the emotions of the jury. At the preliminary examination, each of the two lovers without hesitation confessed to the crime, and with one thought each of them was solely bent on saving, the one her lover, the other his mistress. There were two found guilty, where justice was looking for but a single culprit. The trial was entirely taken up with the flat contradictions which each of them, carried away by the fury of devoted love, gave to the admissions of the other. There they were united for the first time, but on the criminals' bench with a gendarme seated between them. They were found guilty by the unanimous verdict of a weeping jury. No one among those who had the barbarous courage to witness their conveyance to the scaffold can mention them to-day without a shudder. Religion had won for them a repentance for their crime, but could not induce them to abjure their love. The scaffold was their nuptial bed, and there they slept together in the long night of death.



Finding himself incapable of controlling the boiling transports of his anxiety, many a husband makes the mistake of coming home and rushing into the presence of his wife, with the object of triumphing over her weakness, like those bulls of Spain, which, stung by the red banderillo, disembowel with furious horns horses, matadors, picadors, toreadors and their attendants.

But oh! to enter with a tender gentle mien, like Mascarillo, who expects a beating and becomes merry as a lark when he finds his master in a good humor! Well—that is the mark of a wise man!—

"Yes, my darling, I know that in my absence you could have behaved badly! Another in your place would have turned the house topsy-turvy, but you have only broken a pane of glass! God bless you for your considerateness. Go on in the same way and you will earn my eternal gratitude."

Such are the ideas which ought to be expressed by your face and bearing, but perhaps all the while you say to yourself:

"Probably he has been here!"

Always to bring home a pleasant face, is a rule which admits of no exception.

But the art of never leaving your house without returning when the police have revealed to you a conspiracy—to know how to return at the right time—this is the lesson which is hard to learn. In this matter everything depends upon tact and penetration. The actual events of life always transcend anything that is imaginable.

The manner of coming home is to be regulated in accordance with a number of circumstances. For example:

Lord Catesby was a man of remarkable strength. It happened one day that he was returning from a fox hunt, to which he had doubtless promised to go, with some ulterior view, for he rode towards the fence of his park at a point where, he said, he saw an extremely fine horse. As he had a passion for horses, he drew near to examine this one close at hand, There he caught sight of Lady Catesby, to whose rescue it was certainly time to go, if he were in the slightest degree jealous for his own honor. He rushed upon the gentleman he saw there, and seizing him by the belt he hurled him over the fence on to the road side.

"Remember, sir," he said calmly, "it rests with me to decide whether it well be necessary to address you hereafter and ask for satisfaction on this spot."

"Very well, my lord; but would you have the goodness to throw over my horse also?"

But the phlegmatic nobleman had already taken the arm of his wife as he gravely said:

"I blame you very much, my dear creature, for not having told me that I was to love you for two. Hereafter every other day I shall love you for the gentleman yonder, and all other days for myself."

This adventure is regarded in England as one of the best returns home that were ever known. It is true it consisted in uniting, with singular felicity, eloquence of deed to that of word.

But the art of re-entering your home, principles of which are nothing else but natural deductions from the system of politeness and dissimulation which have been commended in preceding Meditations, is after all merely to be studied in preparation for the conjugal catastrophes which we will now consider.



The word Catastrophe is a term of literature which signifies the final climax of a play.

To bring about a catastrophe in the drama which you are playing is a method of defence which is as easy to undertake as it is certain to succeed. In advising to employ it, we would not conceal from you its perils.

The conjugal catastrophe may be compared to one of those high fevers which either carry off a predisposed subject or completely restore his health. Thus, when the catastrophe succeeds, it keeps a woman for years in the prudent realms of virtue.

Moreover, this method is the last of all those which science has been able to discover up to this present moment.

The massacre of St. Bartholomew, the Sicilian Vespers, the death of Lucretia, the two embarkations of Napoleon at Frejus are examples of political catastrophe. It will not be in your power to act on such a large scale; nevertheless, within their own area, your dramatic climaxes in conjugal life will not be less effective than these.

But since the art of creating a situation and of transforming it, by the introduction of natural incidents, constitutes genius; since the return to virtue of a woman, whose foot has already left some tracks upon the sweet and gilded sand which mark the pathway of vice, is the most difficult to bring about of all denouements, and since genius neither knows it nor teaches it, the practitioner in conjugal laws feels compelled to confess at the outset that he is incapable of reducing to definite principles a science which is as changeable as circumstances, as delusive as opportunity, and as indefinable as instinct.

If we may use an expression which neither Diderot, d'Alembert nor Voltaire, in spite of every effort, have been able to engraft on our language, a conjugal catastrophe se subodore is scented from afar; so that our only course will be to sketch out imperfectly certain conjugal situations of an analogous kind, thus imitating the philosopher of ancient time who, seeking in vain to explain motion, walked forward in his attempt to comprehend laws which were incomprehensible.

A husband, in accordance with the principles comprised in our Meditation on Police, will expressly forbid his wife to receive the visits of a celibate whom he suspects of being her lover, and whom she has promised never again to see. Some minor scenes of the domestic interior we leave for matrimonial imaginations to conjure up; a husband can delineate them much better than we can; he will betake himself in thought back to those days when delightful longings invited sincere confidences and when the workings of his policy put into motion certain adroitly handled machinery.

Let us suppose, in order to make more interesting the natural scene to which I refer, that you who read are a husband, whose carefully organized police has made the discovery that your wife, profiting by the hours devoted by you to a ministerial banquet, to which she probably procured you an invitation, received at your house M. A——z.

Here we find all the conditions necessary to bring about the finest possible of conjugal catastrophes.

You return home just in time to find your arrival has coincided with that of M. A——z, for we would not advise you to have the interval between acts too long. But in what mood should you enter? Certainly not in accordance with the rules of the previous Meditation. In a rage then? Still less should you do that. You should come in with good-natured carelessness, like an absent-minded man who has forgotten his purse, the statement which he has drawn up for the minister, his pocket-handkerchief or his snuff-box.

In that case you will either catch two lovers together, or your wife, forewarned by the maid, will have hidden the celibate.

Now let us consider these two unique situations.

But first of all we will observe that husbands ought always to be in a position to strike terror in their homes and ought long before to make preparations for the matrimonial second of September.

Thus a husband, from the moment that his wife has caused him to perceive certain first symptoms, should never fail to give, time after time, his personal opinion on the course of conduct to be pursued by a husband in a great matrimonial crisis.

"As for me," you should say, "I should have no hesitation in killing the man I caught at my wife's feet."

With regard to the discussion that you will thus give rise to, you will be led on to aver that the law ought to have given to the husband, as it did in ancient Rome, the right of life and death over his children, so that he could slay those who were spurious.

These ferocious opinions, which really do not bind you to anything, will impress your wife with salutary terror; you will enumerate them lightly, even laughingly—and say to her, "Certainly, my dear, I would kill you right gladly. Would you like to be murdered by me?"

A woman cannot help fearing that this pleasantry may some day become a very serious matter, for in these crimes of impulse there is a certain proof of love; and then women who know better than any one else how to say true things laughingly at times suspect their husbands of this feminine trick.

When a husband surprises his wife engaged in even innocent conversation with her lover, his face still calm, should produce the effect mythologically attributed to the celebrated Gorgon.

In order to produce a favorable catastrophe at this juncture, you must act in accordance with the character of your wife, either play a pathetic scene a la Diderot, or resort to irony like Cicero, or rush to your pistols loaded with a blank charge, or even fire them off, if you think that a serious row is indispensable.

A skillful husband may often gain a great advantage from a scene of unexaggerated sentimentality. He enters, he sees the lover and transfixes him with a glance. As soon as the celibate retires, he falls at the feet of his wife, he declaims a long speech, in which among other phrases there occurs this:

"Why, my dear Caroline, I have never been able to love you as I should!"

He weeps, and she weeps, and this tearful catastrophe leaves nothing to be desired.

We would explain, apropos of the second method by which the catastrophe may be brought about, what should be the motives which lead a husband to vary this scene, in accordance with the greater or less degree of strength which his wife's character possesses.

Let us pursue this subject.

If by good luck it happens that your wife has put her lover in a place of concealment, the catastrophe will be very much more successful.

Even if the apartment is not arranged according to the principles prescribed in the Meditation, you will easily discern the place into which the celibate has vanished, although he be not, like Lord Byron's Don Juan, bundled up under the cushion of a divan. If by chance your apartment is in disorder, you ought to have sufficient discernment to know that there is only one place in which a man could bestow himself. Finally, if by some devilish inspiration he has made himself so small that he has squeezed into some unimaginable lurking-place (for we may expect anything from a celibate), well, either your wife cannot help casting a glance towards this mysterious spot, or she will pretend to look in an exactly opposite direction, and then nothing is easier for a husband than to set a mouse-trap for his wife.

The hiding-place being discovered, you must walk straight up to the lover. You must meet him face to face!

And now you must endeavor to produce a fine effect. With your face turned three-quarters towards him, you must raise your head with an air of superiority. This attitude will enhance immensely the effect which you aim at producing.

The most essential thing to do at this moment, is to overwhelm the celibate by some crushing phrase which you have been manufacturing all the time; when you have thus floored him, you will coldly show him the door. You will be very polite, but as relentless as the executioner's axe, and as impassive as the law. This freezing contempt will already probably have produced a revolution in the mind of your wife. There must be no shouts, no gesticulations, no excitement. "Men of high social rank," says a young English author, "never behave like their inferiors, who cannot lose a fork without sounding the alarm throughout the whole neighborhood."

When the celibate has gone, you will find yourself alone with your wife, and then is the time when you must subjugate her forever.

You should therefore stand before her, putting on an air whose affected calmness betrays the profoundest emotion; then you must choose from among the following topics, which we have rhetorically amplified, and which are most congenial to your feelings: "Madame," you must say, "I will speak to you neither of your vows, nor of my love; for you have too much sense and I have too much pride to make it possible that I should overwhelm you with those execrations, which all husbands have a right to utter under these circumstances; for the least of the mistakes that I should make, if I did so, is that I would be fully justified. I will not now, even if I could, indulge either in wrath or resentment. It is not I who have been outraged; for I have too much heart to be frightened by that public opinion which almost always treats with ridicule and condemnation a husband whose wife has misbehaved. When I examine my life, I see nothing there that makes this treachery deserved by me, as it is deserved by many others. I still love you. I have never been false, I will not say to my duty, for I have found nothing onerous in adoring you, but not even to those welcome obligations which sincere feeling imposes upon us both. You have had all my confidence and you have also had the administration of my fortune. I have refused you nothing. And now this is the first time that I have turned to you a face, I will not say stern, but which is yet reproachful. But let us drop this subject, for it is of no use for me to defend myself at a moment when you have proved to me with such energy that there is something lacking in me, and that I am not intended by nature to accomplish the difficult task of rendering you happy. But I would ask you, as a friend speaking to a friend, how could you have the heart to imperil at the same time the lives of three human creatures: that of the mother of my children, who will always be sacred to me; that of the head of the family; and finally of him—who loves—[she perhaps at these words will throw herself at your feet; you must not permit her to do so; she is unworthy of kneeling there]. For you no longer love me, Eliza. Well, my poor child [you must not call her my poor child excepting when the crime has not been committed]—why deceive ourselves? Why do you not answer me? If love is extinguished between a married couple, cannot friendship and confidence still survive? Are we not two companions united in making the same journey? Can it be said that during the journey the one must never hold out his hand to the other to raise up a comrade or to prevent a comrade's fall? But I have perhaps said too much and I am wounding your pride—Eliza! Eliza!"

Now what the deuce would you expect a woman to answer? Why a catastrophe naturally follows, without a single word.

In a hundred women there may be found at least a good half dozen of feeble creatures who under this violent shock return to their husbands never perhaps again to leave them, like scorched cats that dread the fire. But this scene is a veritable alexipharmaca, the doses of which should be measured out by prudent hands.

For certain women of delicate nerves, whose souls are soft and timid, it would be sufficient to point out the lurking-place where the lover lies, and say: "M. A——z is there!" [at this point shrug your shoulders]. "How can you thus run the risk of causing the death of two worthy people? I am going out; let him escape and do not let this happen again."

But there are women whose hearts, too violently strained in these terrible catastrophes, fail them and they die; others whose blood undergoes a change, and they fall a prey to serious maladies; others actually go out of their minds. These are examples of women who take poison or die suddenly—and we do not suppose that you wish the death of the sinner.

Nevertheless, the most beautiful and impressionable of all the queens of France, the charming and unfortunate Mary Stuart, after having seen Rizzio murdered almost in her arms, fell in love, nevertheless, with the Earl of Bothwell; but she was a queen and queens are abnormal in disposition.

We will suppose, then, that the woman whose portrait adorns our first Meditation is a little Mary Stuart, and we will hasten to raise the curtain for the fifth act in this grand drama entitled Marriage.

A conjugal catastrophe may burst out anywhere, and a thousand incidents which we cannot describe may give it birth. Sometimes it is a handkerchief, as in Othello; or a pair of slippers, as in Don Juan; sometimes it is the mistake of your wife, who cries out—"Dear Alphonse!" instead of "Dear Adolph!" Sometimes a husband, finding out that his wife is in debt, will go and call on her chief creditor, and will take her some morning to his house, as if by chance, in order to bring about a catastrophe. "Monsieur Josse, you are a jeweler and you sell your jewels with a readiness which is not equaled by the readiness of your debtors to pay for them. The countess owes you thirty thousand francs. If you wish to be paid to-morrow [tradesmen should always be visited at the end of the month] come to her at noon; her husband will be in the chamber. Do not attend to any sign which she may make to impose silence upon you—speak out boldly. I will pay all."

So that the catastrophe in the science of marriage is what figures are in arithmetic.

All the principles of higher conjugal philosophy, on which are based the means of defence outlined in this second part of our book, are derived from the nature of human sentiments, and we have found them in different places in the great book of the world. Just as persons of intellect instinctively apply the laws of taste whose principles they would find difficulty in formulating, so we have seen numberless people of deep feeling employing with singular felicity the precepts which we are about to unfold, yet none of them consciously acted on a definite system. The sentiments which this situation inspired only revealed to them incomplete fragments of a vast system; just as the scientific men of the sixteenth century found that their imperfect microscopes did not enable them to see all the living organisms, whose existence had yet been proved to them by the logic of their patient genius.

We hope that the observations already made in this book, and in those which follow, will be of a nature to destroy the opinion which frivolous men maintain, namely that marriage is a sinecure. According to our view, a husband who gives way to ennui is a heretic, and more than that, he is a man who lives quite out of sympathy with the marriage state, of whose importance he has no conception. In this connection, these Meditations perhaps will reveal to very many ignorant men the mysteries of a world before which they stand with open eyes, yet without seeing it.

We hope, moreover, that these principles when well applied will produce many conversions, and that among the pages that separate this second part from that entitled Civil War many tears will be shed and many vows of repentance breathed.

Yes, among the four hundred thousand honest women whom we have so carefully sifted out from all the European nations, we indulge the belief that there are a certain number, say three hundred thousand, who will be sufficiently self-willed, charming, adorable, and bellicose to raise the standard of Civil War.

To arms then, to arms!


Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse